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San Joaquin Hospital Boosts Asset Utilization

By using a ZigBee-based RFID system to track equipment, the California hospital expects to save more than $158,000 annually through increased through labor-savings alone.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 03, 2010When San Joaquin Community Hospital's employees met for their daily bed-meetings to discuss the day's issues and concerns, the nursing staff had a common problem—they often wasted time searching for IV pumps, or a bed, and patients were sometimes left waiting for a bed or other medical service. Sam Itani, VP of support services at the hospital—which is part of the Adventist Health System, in the Bakersfield, Calif., area—knew there were solutions available. He had read enough about real-time location system (RTLS) technology, and seen brochures mailed by vendors, to know there were options based on active RFID, Wi-Fi and infrared technologies. Most importantly, though, the hospital wanted a system that would be affordable, and not require the installation of cable or place demands on the IT department with another software system to oversee.

The hospital chose the Skytron Asset Manager (SAM) system, provided by medical equipment and software firm Skytron, using Awarepoint's technology and server. The Awarepoint ZigBee-based sensors (access points) plug into power outlets, and transmit and receive information to network to Awarepoint ZigBee-based active RFID tags attached to assets. A server hosted by Awarepoint manages that data, and can be accessed via the Internet. By July 2009, Skytron had installed between 300 and 350 sensors throughout the hospital's 330,000-square-foot, 255-bed facility, which encompasses several buildings, including an immunization center and a biomed area in separate buildings.

Sam Itani, VP of support services at San Joaquin Community Hospital
Skytron used nylon ties to attach the RFID tags to the hospital's own IV pumps, beds, wheelchairs, pacemakers, speech amplifiers (to assist patients unable to speak) and other items. The facility is also tagging its rental equipment until each item leaves the facility, at which point its tag is removed and placed on another asset.

Awarepoint's active RFID tags transmit their unique ID number at 2.48 GHz over the 802.15.4 (ZigBee) communications protocol—to each other, as well as to the sensors, which are plugged directly into standard 120-volt AC wall outlets. The tags and sensors function as nodes in a mesh network, and forward a tag's ID number, along with the strength of the signal as received by other network nodes, to a device called a bridge.

In that way, each tag's ID number and signal strength, as well as the time of the tag read, is sent to a bridge that receives all of the tag and access point data, and routes it to the Awarepoint server via an Ethernet connection. The server calculates a tag's location using a proprietary algorithm, based on that tag's signal strength.

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